Life & Culture

Why I'm not worried about being a balding Jew

When I feel sad about my hair-loss, I look to follicly challenged figures in halachic literature for inspiration


We have this really sweet and funny game in my family. The kids will take the mickey out of my baldness in various creative ways — recently in a game of Zombies I was told my superpower was to remove my cap and the shininess from my scalp would burn the hordes to a crisp — and I’ll laugh and congratulate them on their inventiveness. Then later on, when I’m alone, I’ll have a little cry.

Now, there’s a slightly surreal passage in the Book of Kings, and I’m not referring to fiery chariots descending from heaven, which is de rigueur. A bunch of boys gather and call the newly appointed Prophet Elisha “Baldy”, and in response he gets two female bears to rip 42 of them apart. Which might well appear to be somewhat excessive. Might.

Anyone who’s studied a bit of halachic literature, as you do, will know there’s an entire sub-genre of explaining away certain passages to make them more palatable, particularly for modern sensibilities, such as “Abraham secretly knew he wouldn’t have to sacrifice Isaac all along, the knife was just for show”.

With baldy bear massacre, efforts usually revolve around the supposed mistranslation of “boys”, who could’ve instead been youths or young men in their twenties, thus deserving of what they had coming. And with Abraham living until 175, who knows where the stages of life fell back then, at 15 he was probably still classified a toddler

Yet I’m more inclined to go along with the traditional interpretations, that this story is really a warning for children to respect their elders. “Baldy” seems like the terminology of a small child, surely someone older would’ve come up with something more inventive like chrome dome, or Professor X. A family favourite.

Also, bears being deliverers of justice has a certain fairytale quality to it. Even the number 42 seems deliberate, like it’s the largest number a little kid might be capable of visualising.

Indeed, that it was only 42 of the boys torn to shreds, has actually been described in the commentaries as proof of God’s mercy, surely by someone bald. I’d certainly bet money that Jeremiah, author of the Book of Kings, was also follicly challenged. He may well have just chucked this bit in as a revenge fantasy after a hurtful incident walking past a playground.

I do think it strange though, that for a people with a fair bit of stuff going on about the head, kippahs and payot, headscarfs and scheitels, there doesn’t appear to be much official guidance on baldness. Particularly as so many of us seem to be affected.

Maybe this is more an Ashkenazi phenomenon, my scientific method ends at nodding to other dads in recognition at the school gates, but it was enough of a stereotype for balding Jews to be utilised as part of Nazi imagery.

Though Israel’s now the haven for bald Jews, from OG, or OB, David Ben-Gurion, through to recent Prime Minister Bennett using kippah tape to keep his on, and in one of its biggest TV stars, Fauda’s Lior Raz, a man who could single-handily beat up a couple of bears, it’s also the home of the “Magic Yarmuka” a specially designed kippot made out of hair, essentially a kill two birds with one stone toupee. So how exactly then is Judaism meant to make me feel about the loss of my beautiful flowing Jewfro, pride or shame?

Is there anything about the messianic age bringing back hair follicles as well as the dead? Did God choose Moses because we were more likely to follow him due to his impressive mane? On a side note I suspect Jesus was receding but just continually healed himself surreptitiously scratching his forehead.

Perhaps the tradition of growing sideburns long, rather than simply not shaving them, came from experimenting with comb-overs? Are big beards a sign of overcompensation? Are kippot just a means of concealing the problem?

It all comes down to Leviticus xiii 41: “If a man loses the hair of his head and becomes bald, he is pure.” Bald pride would advocate that this is good thing, something to aspire to, even a blessing. Forget charity and not coveting stuff, all you’ve got to do to be pure, is hope and pray that God will banish your evil hair.

On the other hand, this line could’ve been put in to stop all the bald persecution going on.

Yes we know they’re easily sunburnt and’ll probably never get married and are full of rage, but stop screaming “impure” and banishing them, they’re not as bad as those with leprosy. It’s a call for tolerance.

Until this is sorted out, I’m going to read my kids a sweet bedtime story. Baldylocks and the Two Bears.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive